The short 30 second adverts between television programmes have always been the highlight of my rather ‘un-festive’ Christmases, always passing by without any problems but the frustration of a catchy song lodged in my head. This Christmas has been quite the usual style, with John Lewis offering us a horny penguin and M & S employing fairies to gift men bras. The story, however, was much different with Sainsbury’s WW1 themed Christmas advert which has been viewed 14 million times on YouTube and alledlegedly won the much acclaimed title of best advert.
For 30 seconds I remained silent, caught by what I thought at the time was a majestic re-enactment of the ‘legendary’ Christmas truce in the trenches of world-war one, only to find that a matter as delicate as war has become the appalling method Sainsbury’s (a supermarket) is using to increase their sales in the number of chocolate bars. This did not fit the context of advertising in any way possible.
However strong-opinionated my views may be, I cannot deny the advert in itself failed to catch my breath. The short video was carefully composed with The Royal British Legion, a moving well chosen cast, a heart warming story and a budget of £7 million. Overall the production of the advert is glossy and emotionally manipulating. After reading this, you may ask what exactly went wrong.
This year marks the centenary anniversary of World War One. There have been many tributes to those who lost their lives in the war, but the Sainsbury’s advert was certainly not what I would call a commemoration.
The first problem I have with this advertisement is that War has no place in selling Brussels sprouts and spiced candles. It is shocking to find that a war where 37 million soldiers and civilians, worldwide, were brutally massacred has been degraded as advert material for a supermarket giant.
There have been many representations of WW1 in the filming industry; some with respect and others shamelessly exploiting those involved, an example being the comedic portrayal of war through much loved television series Black adder. Though these films can be considered somewhat disrespectful, there is a big difference between selling representations of war and using war to sell merchandise. And no, for Sainsbury to say that they are donating 50p every specially made £1 chocolate bar to The Royal British Legion, does not make this any more acceptable.
To make matters worse Sainsbury’s has been praised for its ‘historical accuracy’. This made me squint. How is their romanticized tale historically accurate? There is not a trace of blood on the soldier’s uniforms, no suffering men and the Christmas truce in itself is accepted as a glorified, nationalistic myth. There is no sufficient evidence that on Christmas Day 1914, the soldiers simply put down their arms and play football, and even if they did they were undoubtedly, unfairly punished for it. Reading firsthand accounts from acclaimed poets like WW1 soldier, Wilfred Owen makes this escapade seem highly unlikely.
But of course Sainsbury’s could never mention that soldiers like Tommy would (gasps) die, in an advert which little children are watching. Which brings me back to where I started, War is not appropriate for advertising. It should not be romanticised to a beautiful myth and it should not be used for selling Christmas products. Maybe if blood and barbed wire made an appearance and the Sainsbury’s logo was sent into a dark hell hole, the advertisement would mean something.